Mindy Aloff reviews the opening night at the Ashton Festival.
A Crowd-Pleaser, a Moonwalk, and a Stunning "Enigma": the Ashton Celebration Opens
Frederick Ashton was a genius, without question; however, his work is not everyone’s cup of tea. Happily for me, it is mine, with watercress sandwiches and scones lathered in Devonshire cream. Of the four ballets on this opening program, all of which I first saw with their original casts, and two of which I’ve seen with several casts from both sides of the Atlantic, it seems to me that “Monotones II,” for three (to use Arlene Croce’s excellent word) saltimbanques, who seem to be spelling out a hymn to purity with their bodies on a rivulet of the Milky Way, is among the great works of abstract art from the 20th century, in any medium: worthy to be set beside a canvas by Mondrian or a sculpture by Brancusi. “Enigma Variations,” a demi-caractère epic of Edwardian sensibility, with classical underpinnings, about the interior life of an artist in his garden on an autumn afternoon, is among the greatest ballets in history. “Monotones I,” for a trio of terrestrials whose reference point is a sun that, although invisible to the audience, clearly dwarfs them, is the product of a master craftsman who understands how what can be seen testifies to what can’t: frequently beautiful, often surprising, an enticement to the eye on multiple viewings. “Rhapsody”, a chamber ballet for 14, in which a handsome interloper invades a court, overtakes it by dint of sheer bravura, and gets the queen, too, was made as a star vehicle for Mikhail Baryshnikov. While not top-drawer Ashton, it roused the audience on Tuesday more than his masterpieces. “Enigma Variations” was politely applauded; the reception for “Rhapsody” was tumultuous. It’s not the way I would want things to be, but one can’t legislate people’s responses in the theater, even when one’s heart is breaking over the crowd’s choice.